CAC versus New Mexico Junior College

Central’s Shakeil Bertrand, center goes to the hoop against New Mexico Junior College defenders Dec. 31, 2019, at George Young Activity Center.

SIGNAL PEAK — In a normal season, the Central Arizona College men’s basketball team would have been about three-quarters though its schedule in late January.

Though these are not normal times due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Vaqueros are preparing to begin an abbreviated slate of games Jan. 23 when they face Snow College (Utah) before starting Arizona Community College Athletic Conference play against Pima on Jan. 28.

Only five ACCAC schools will be playing basketball this season. The conference’s six Maricopa County schools, along with Tohono O’odham, have opted out. So instead of having 22 ACCAC games, Central is down to 15.

The original alternate plan had CAC, Eastern Arizona, Arizona Western and Pima playing each other four times. But the Jan. 26 game at Eastern — which was supposed to be the Vaqueros’ conference opener — already has been canceled, and it’s almost inevitable that more schedule adjustments are in the offing prior to the March 30 regular-season finale.

CAC coach Tramaine Aaron is trying to take everything in stride in what truly is a day-to-day adventure.

“This is such a unique season,” he said. “We only have a limited time to prepare (practice began on Jan. 4). “Mentality is going to be huge. We (myself and assistant coach Brandon McGruder) are going to have to have a lot of patience and understanding. But at the same, the players need to pay more attention to detail and show more maturity earlier than they would in a normal season.”

With seven returners on CAC’s nine-man roster, “we don’t have to teach as much,” Aaron said. Practice has been “more of a refresher course for them.”

The projected starting lineup includes returners Brenton Woods and Ryan Pate at guard, Shakeil Bertrand (6-foot-8) and Alan Tchatchouang (6-7) at forward and newcomer Noah Self at guard. Rounding out the roster are returners Jalen Menzies and Mycole Rodriguez at guard, Keivon Robinson (6-7) at forward and newcomer Akram Ben Salah (6-8) at forward.

Woods averaged 13.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.4 steals in 2019-20 for the Vaqueros, who went 14-16 overall and 9-13 against ACCAC opponents in Aaron’s sixth season at the helm. Woods went 43 for 188 on 3-pointers (36.4%). Bertrand averaged 11.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals.

Pate averaged 9.1 points and 3.8 rebounds and shot 36.2% from 3-point range, going 59 for 163. Menzies averaged 8.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals. Rodriguez averaged 2.1 points and 2.1 rebounds, Tchatchouang averaged 2.0 points and 1.8 rebounds, and Robinson averaged 1.1 points and 1.8 rebounds.

“The guys weren’t able to get into basketball shape like they normally do but if we can stay healthy, we’ll be OK,” Aaron said.

Playing against four conference opponents instead of 11 will breed familiarity, which has “advantages and negatives,” Aaron said. “Making adjustments will be the biggest thing. It’s going to come down to who wants it more.”

Fans will not be allowed to attend games due to coronavirus restrictions.